May 14, 2021: 3D Printed Earth Home

We’ve written before about various 3D-printed homes. The technology shows a lot of promise for reducing cost and construction times but, until now, most of the projects we’ve seen used extruded cement-based materials for the structure. The problem with cement. of course, are the high levels of carbon emissions and embodied energy required to make it, plus the fact that it can be very difficult to properly insulate a cement structure.

This article from New Atlas describes a new project in Italy where a beautiful home has been 3D-printed using locally-sourced earth materials. The printing took 200 hours and the natural materials give it a very low embodied energy.

The organic forms of the Tecla 3D-Printed Eco-home (Source: New Atlas)

The lovely, organic forms of the Tecla 3D-Printed Eco-home (Source: New Atlas)

The shape might seem outlandish and fanciful but it actually makes a lot of sense. The use of domed shapes with ribbed walls mean that they are able to create a very stable structure without the need for any other supporting materials (like steel or timber). In standard construction it is very time-consuming and expensive to build organic shapes out of straight, square materials (just look at the cost of anything designed by Frank Gehry as an example). However with 3D-printing it’s a great deal easier. You simply create a computer model of the structure and the printer does the rest with the added advantage that there are no offcuts, waste or scrap.

My first thought when I saw the article was, “that won’t have any insulation”. But according to the article…

The TECLA design incorporates thermo-insulation, ventilation and water collection within the single structure. The dome shape of the dwelling is an effective way to enclose the building without the need for support structures during the construction process. Furthermore, the design can be optimized to balance thermal mass, insulation and ventilation according to different and unique locations and climate conditions.

That all sounds pretty good (although I wouldn’t want to be sitting under one of those big sky windows in an Australian summer) which leaves me with one major concern… if this structure is made entirely out of earth and it has no roof overhang to protect the walls, what’s to stop it simply washing away when it rains?

I guess time will tell whether this technology gains a foothold in the notoriously slow-to-change construction industry. But if someone comes up with a system that produces a durable, well-insulated structure that can be built quickly at low-cost with low embodied energy and a very small carbon footprint then I think it might give the brick-veneerials a run for their money.

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